By Ernie Palladino
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In baseball, as in life, one often gets in the end what one has coming to him.
Alex Rodriguez gets his Friday; an ending, but one filled with more disappointment than glory over an all-time great career that could have been, indeed should have been, so much better, with so much more love pouring out of the cheap seats.
Yankee Stadium may well swell with cheers in recognition of the physical greatness of A-Rod as he heads into a lucrative sunset as a special advisor to the franchise that welcomed him, scorned him, and then welcomed him again during 13 tumultuous years in pinstripes. According to Brian Cashman, he will be released unconditionally, meaning he gets the $26 million the Yanks owe him for next season.
That will make him one of the nation’s most highly paid advisors outside of AIG.
Then again, Rodriguez was always too big to fail. The big bat and that big, me-first personality always announced that he’d be around. Whether he was well-liked, whether he produced in key moments, whether he would even be on the bench, those were other matters. But the fact was that the Yanks just couldn’t get rid of him, no matter his sins.
Those were many, and none of them had to do with this year’s precipitous fall from resurgent hitter to glorified benchwarmer. Those things happen, and they happen fast to 41-year-old ballplayers. There is no sin in that.
But the fibs? Those were bad. He lied and lied and lied about using PEDs until he finally admitted it. Then, he lost all of 2014 on suspension when the Biogenesis scandal hit, sparking another set of denials, legal threats, and finally acquiescence.
Rodriguez so wanted to chase down Barry Bonds for the home run record. In the end, that lost season will leave him four short of 700 if he fails to hit another in his final four games of full-time action.
Plenty of folks would have loved to see the drive for 762 pre-Biogenesis. But Rodriguez disappointed them all.
He came here from Texas in 2004 and re-upped at $252.87 million in 2007. The Yanks figured he’d come in here and not only lead them into the playoffs, but become a postseason monster and World Series hero.
Their reward? Three out of 11 postseason series in which he hit over .273. His one World Series in 2009 netted him a .250 BA, one homer, and six RBI, and eight strikeouts in 20 at-bats.
He never hit higher than .190 in his final five postseason series.
A lot of greats fall in the postseason. The Yanks will bid farewell to one of those at season’s end as Mark Teixeira retires. But for Teixeira’s postseason failures — .161 in three ALCSs and .136 in the 2009 World Series — he goes out as a guy who did things right. Even with eight less years of service, 292 fewer homers, and a slew of injuries freak and otherwise that marred his final years, the esteem Tex will receive from the fans will far exceed whatever comes A-Rod’s way Friday.
There will be cheers for Rodriguez. But there will be no handkerchiefs.
There will be a certain reverence for the physical gifts that enabled a 22-year career. But the overriding emotion will be of disappointment, of what could have been had A-Rod just played it straight with the franchise, his teammates, and the fans.
It’s hard to use a term like “wasted talent” when talking about someone whose only impediment to Cooperstown will be the baseball writers’ reluctance to put in a confirmed cheat.
That may change once A-Rod’s five-year waiting period expires. It may not.
But if A-Rod does get a plaque, the feeling on induction day should feel a lot like the one that will surround his final departure Friday.
Alex Rodriguez was a great player.
A great disappointment, too.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino